Independent Pursuits: Chess

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THE ANNUAL Hastings Premier starts today at the Cinque Ports Hotel (01424-439222). Sponsored by Hastings Borough Council with support from Onyx UK, it runs until Thursday week with nine rounds and just a single rest on New Year's Day.

The Congress also comprises other events held at the YMCA, St Paul's Road, St Leonards. There is a formidable Challengers, with several grandmasters, including at least Hebden, Arkell, Summerscale, Lalic, Glek and Miezis - and the exceptionally promising Murugan Thiruchelvam, only just 11; the fourth World Amateur Championship for unrated players; one-day under- 11 and under-16 events on 2 January, and many more: while proceedings will only finish after a weekend tournament on Friday evening/Saturday/Sunday, 8-10 January.

Over the next week-and-a-half, I'll be reporting mainly from the battle front, but will also try to keep up-to-date on other events in the chess world. First though, a brief introduction to the Premier line-up.

There are five English players - Sadler, Miles, Emms, Plaskett and myself - who I imagine are reasonably familiar. I've featured 15-year-old Ruslan Ponomariov from the Ukraine several times recently which leaves four more.

The two qualifiers from last year's Challengers are Sergei Shipov (Russia) rated 2,635 and Mikhail Saltaev (Uzbekistan). Although Saltaev is rated "only" 2,525, he was the only player in the Elista Olympiad to defeat the Israeli Boris Avrukh - who slaughtered me and got the gold medal on board 6.

Frenchman Laurent Fressinet, just 17, is a sensible international master with a fairly positional style. Last, but by no means least, there is the Bosnian Ivan Sokolov from Sarajevo, though he moved to Holland during the recent war. A truly formidable player, Ivan tends to play fairly positionally, but carries a serious punch.

This is a recent example. If 5.Bxc3 6.Bxc3 Nxe4 7.Qg4! is strong. Sokolov gradually built up a powerful attack. If 24.Qg3 Qe5 provides some defence. Instead 24.Qd1! was decisive. At the end 26...gxf6 27.Nxf6 is murder.

Ivan Sokolov v Emir Dizdarevic

Sarajevo 1998

Franco Indian Defence

1. d4 e6

2. c4 Bb4+

3. Bd2 a5

4. Nc3 Nf6

5. e4 d6

6. Bd3 e5

7. a3 Bxc3

8. bxc3 c5

9. Ne2 Nc6

10. 0-0 0-0

11. f3 Nd7

12. Be3 a4

13. Rb1 Ra6

14. f4 Na5

15. Ng3 Nb3

16. Bc2 Re8

17. Nh5 Nf8

18. f5 exd4

19. Qg4 Ng6

20. cxd4 cxd4

21. Bf2 Qe7

22. Bxb3 axb3

23. Rxb3 Rc6

24. Qd1 Ne5

25. Bxd4 Kh8

26. f6 1-0